Utah has increased the number of refugees it accepts in recent years, and that's intensifying challenges among local nonprofits to provide new residents with housing and health care.
About 1,200 new refugees are resettled each year in Utah through organizations such as Catholic Community Services, which handles almost half of that caseload.
Aden Batar is director of immigration and refugee resettlement for the nonprofit. He told a panel recently that apartments have been increasingly difficult to find.
“We need more landlords that are willing to rent to refugees,” he says. “Otherwise the refugee communities are pushed to areas where they can get housing, which is not suitable for them right now.”
When refugees are forced to live in places without suitable access to public transit or employment opportunities, they can and do have a harder time integrating.
Mara Rabin, medical director at Utah Health and Human Rights, she says health care access is another huge obstacle.
Refugees receive Medicaid for eight months, and aren’t guaranteed extended coverage or subsidies beyond that time.
That’s problematic, Rabin says, because approximately one in three refugees entering the U.S. has been subjected to torture.
“Some individuals have serious trauma related to their torture experience, or other health conditions, chronic health conditions, and then they can’t get ongoing care for them and that’s creates an enormous stressor because they may have entry-level jobs, low incomes, and can’t really afford health insurance or fall in between,” she says.
The state this year passed a scaled-back version of Medicaid expansion that will cover an additional 10,000 Utahns. But that still leaves out tens of thousands that fall into the so-called coverage gap.
Rabin has even recommended to refugee clients facing significant health challenges to move to other states that have full Medicaid expansion to receive ongoing care.
But that could be in jeopardy if President-elect Trump and a new Republican-controlled Congress follow through with their pledge to overturn the Affordable Care Act.